Now in the debate itself, the expectations for Palin's performance had been set so outrageously low, that popular media is grudgingly handing out tepid applause to her performance. And conservative writers are downright relieved: she wasn't asked to name any Supreme Court cases she disagrees with or newspapers that she likes to read, and escaped the evening without any Palinesque gaffes that were becoming the norm for her in the past few weeks.
But what did she really accomplish last night other than repeat a few well-worn cliches about mavericks and tax cuts, and contradict herself about regulating Wall Street while getting government out of the way of business? She styles herself as a Jane Sixpack and a hockey mom, but when did that become a desirable quality in a potential leader of the free world. Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote this morning that:
The presidency and the vice presidency once was the preserve of white men in
suits. As the historian Ellen Fitzpatrick pointed out on PBS Thursday night, if,
in 1984, Geraldine Ferraro had spoken in the relentlessly folksy tones that
Palin used, she would have been hounded out of politics as fundamentally
unserious. But that was before casual Fridays, boxers or briefs and
T-shirt-clad Silicon Valley executives. Today, Palin can hit those
colloquial notes again and again, and it is not automatically disqualifying.
Why not? Why isn't it automatically disqualifying when someone applying for a desperately serious job in a desperately serious time carries herself so un-seriously. Winking at the camera, saying "you betcha," and "darn right" is cute, and according to Mr. Brooks it plays well in the sticks, but when the shit hits the fan, does the advent of casual Fridays really mean that America can afford to elect a vice president who has such a weak grasp of national and international issues? Just because she "comes from Main Street" and "understands working people"?
God forgive me, but give me Dick Cheney any day of the week.
All that said, it's not really Sarah Palin's fault. In fact, to her credit, she has never been anything other than a small town mayor who was in the right place at the right time and ended up governor of a small state (well, small in terms of the number of people she has to govern). Sarah Palin has not changed who she is - folksy, "regular," and very much an arch-conservative ideologue. I can disagree with her, and I can insist she is unqualified (I do, and I do), but whatever.
The real outcry here should not be about Sarah Palin, but about the man who offered her a shot at being President of the United States. John McCain used to be a level-headed, pragmatic politician (even if a bit more conservative than the reputation he earned in 2000). He eschewed wild political ideology, and often was able to build consensus close to the center of the political spectrum. When you are an occasional centrist, it's no surprise you have good relationships on both sides of the aisle. John McCain would have never, ever have selected Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2000 (even if 2008 Palin was available in 2000). But in 2008, he traded in his pragmatic, common-sense credentials for a shot at the big chair. And that is when he lost so many people in the middle. John McCain's one claim to legitimacy - that he rejects the radical left and the radical right - was belied by his selection of Sarah Palin.
That, my friends, is what I think of first and foremost every time I listen to Governor Palin. It's not: "what the hell is wrong with her?", it's: "what the hell is wrong with him?"